Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Success in 2009

My last posting this year and something a little more up-beat. Personally its been an epic 2008, including: marriage, moving and materity.

I really just wanted to wish all clients, partners, friends & staff of Ideal Interface a fantastic & successful 2009.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

blogs have more impact than social networks

A report of a survey done by Buzz Logic & Jupiter Research back in the Autumn of this year shows that over half of all US blog reader (sorry, it doesn't seem to have a global reach) find blogs useful for purchase information. (Full press release here)

And suprisingly, blogs have more impact on purchasing decisions than social networks because blogs are more trusted!

Its even better news for niche blogs, as of those who found blog content useful for product decisions, over half of them (56%) said niche focus blogs and "topical expertise" sources were key. Unsuprisingly this information was most useful for technology-related purchases:

So had blogging actually come-of-age now?

Well it seems that for a certain segment of the population that answer is "yes", as blogs now rival search as a means of navigating to information that influences their decisions.

Face to Face is highest Cost-to-serve

Following my recent posts on implementing and managaing customers down to a lower cost-to-serve channel, I got several emails from people asking me about face-to-face communication and where it fitted into my Interaction diagram.

Unsuprisingly, face-to-face (F2F) contact appears at 'Position E' in the top right corner. This channel of customer interaction is the most costly, involving premises or travel and a lot preparation. It may also need the customer service individual / account manager / client contact / handler, etc. having all necessary information and support materials to-hand.

Costs can potentially increase further depending upon the demands of the interaction. For example: you may have a complex product that needs explaining / configuring or possibly a prestige client-base who is used to the "Low Tech / High Touch" approach. Try managing these people to a lower interaction channel and you could instantly see them quickly migrate to your competitors.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Measuring Wisdom

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours in the company of some great minds recently. Hidden in the corner at a company Christmas party (the equivalent of the guys hanging out in the kitchen at a dinner party I guess) we discussed many topics, including the subject of wisdom.
The main question we eventually distilled the issue down to was:

"If wisdom is the application of knowledge and if there are ways of measuring knowledge, why is there no easy way of measuring wisdom?"
Taking this thought further, I would like to state that we don't give wisdom (and really I mean those that have it) enough credit.

Perhaps because we haven't been able to apply a metric to it yet?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Customer Experience in a Recession

Two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the UK economy means we are officially in a recession (even though most sensibe people been saying that for almost a year).

A recession it may be, but its not technically a 'depression'. I think the best desciption of both has to be Ronald Regan from his 1980 presidential nominee speech:

"A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

Economists now generally agree that the downturn will last at least about two years. First becoming worst in 2009, it will eventually tail off around 2011.

To so this, they will consider a number of questions:
  1. How can you gain competitive advantage/market share without significant expenditure?
  2. Can you restrict your customer strategies, especially if there is not tangible/obvious Return on Investment (ROI)?
  3. At what point do you forget the ‘customer experience’ and cut costs?
  4. If customers are increasing their usage of different channels (e.g. mobile, internet/media devices, etc.) how do you faciliate these on the same/less budget?
However, as an example of corporate Darwinian theory, the best business will survive in these conditions. Those that do survive will have learnt to be flexible & lean, but should be ideally placed to take advantage of the economy when it eventually returns to full-health.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wordle graph of my blog

I'm always on the look-out for ways to chart/graph/depict complexity. I was therefore please to recently stumble across By typing in the feed from this blog, it creates the visual representation you see above.

A better quality version of it is available here on Wordle's site.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Online PR still too specialist?

Back in August of this year a survey by Big Mouth Media reported that out of 100 UK PR firms, 79% did not have dedicated online PR services and could be missing out on an opportunity. It now seems that the market hasn't moved much further on.

A new Econsultancy Online PR Industry Benchmarking report, based on a survey of 300+ marketers & PR folks in the UK states that:
Online PR is still clearly viewed as a specialist and technical PR function by many respondents.

If companies outsource their Online PR to agencies or specialists, the breakdown is as follows:
  • 51% use PR agencies
  • 29% search marketing agencies
  • 22% web development agencies
I therefore think the picture is still far from clear right now. Whilst some PR agencies have obviously risen to the challenge, others are happy to let web-specific agencies eat their lunch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Delivery for loyal customers

A short posting today (and nothing to do with last night's Christmas Party, honest!). I just thought, as we've only 2 Amazon Super Saver shopping days to Christmas...

... that I'd share this article from yesterday's Internet Retailing site. A news article stated that "Customer loyalty does still exist — but free delivery and special offers are now the key retailer deciders".

The report from GSI Commerce, ( and I still find their website a little confusing) says that:
"pushing free delivery and special last-minute offers needs to be a priority in the final few days of online Christmas shopping,"
It seems that given the same product at the same price from 2 different eTailers, 68% of customers would opt for the one that offered free delivery. Although that's hardly a shocking fact, you do have to worry what the other 32% based their decision on.

However, more shocking was the news that Amazon is apparently mis-treating its warehouse staff to reach its incredible near-perfect delivery rate. It seems that free delivery may come at a cost in the end!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad multi-channel experiences

A bad cross-channel experience could well affect your customers, leading to lost revenue and bad feeling.

Its possible to create a frustrating multi-channel experience when dealing with a company via just two different channels, let alone 3 or 4! This is especially true in the digital world where customers are only one click away from abandoning a company if their expectations are not instantly met. Lets be a little clearer...

1. Optimising your channels is not necessarily all about the lowest cost-to-serve (The average cost required to deliver a service to a customer), its about maintaining the right revenue streams and quality.

2. Consistency across channels (call centre, website, in-store kiosk, customer interaction technologies, etc.) reduces customer frustration. Or put another way: a report by BT back in early 2008 showed that:
"ninety-seven per cent of customers expect their interactions with companies to be consistent and seamless"

Be careful how you plan and implement your multi-channel strategy for 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Customer Interaction Technologies lower cost to serve

In less-certain economic times, companies come under increasing pressure to reduce costs and as I mentioned last week, this can mean managing your customers down to lower cost-to-serve channels (e.g. moving them from positon 'B' to position 'A' in the diagram)

For those who've read my previous post, you will know I believe you need to provide the right amount of customer interaction that a customer needs (but perhaps just not the level they want). This is where the web becomes incredibly useful.

But building a website to interface with customers is no-longer just a case of building a static content-fulled site, its about creating another interaction channel. And sometimes, providing customers with a basic level of interaction (e.g. Position 'A') just goesn't cut it any more. Fear not, a technology solution can be used, it just has to be used more carefully and cleverly.

Providing a rich user experience for your website is something that I've worked with a lot of clients on. Developing an intuitive and often complex site (e.g. Position 'C') obviously adds to your cost-to-serve, but in the longer-term this is a relatively small incremental cost per customer. It should also prevent the customer automatically heading off to to your 'Contact Us' page to phone your call centre. Technologies such as: Silverlight, Flash, and AJAX can help your site provide better interactivity and customer empowerment, and personalisation & other decision-based logic can provide a more individual experience.

But there is a middle ground and it sits somewhere between the slick responses of a video-based interaction and the human-to-human contact we all crave. However its an area that many websites have yet to fully understand and tackle (and it sits at Position 'D').

CIT or Customer Interaction Technologies as they are called, can all help bridge this interaction gap:

Is a way of connecting your call-centre with your customers, who can leave their details and be called back as a time better suited to them or the company (e.g. during any particular quiet periods your customer services representatives have).

Self-learning avatars
Virtual assisitants, provided by people such as Creative Virtual, are still a technology that has yet to break into the mainsteam and its hard to work out why. Perhaps when one passes the Turing Test, we may see a change.

Interactive FAQ's
These online knowledge bases can provide dynamic Frequently Asked Questions, that understand context or provide more than just the standard content-managed answers. Link these into your personalisation functionality, track their usage and you get a rich set of data on what people are looking for (and what they don't know about).

Customer chat
In essence a business version of Instant Messaging, this technology has been used on websites for serval years now and provides a customer with text access to your call centre. Yes, I know this may seem like a slower (and therefore more costly way) way of interacting, but done cleverly it can reduce the cost-to-serve or even allow your operative to have more than one conversation at the same time.
E.g. pre-typed or 'hotkey' responses to produce instant answers to familiar questions, such as specific issue information or company contact details

Although these Customer Interaction Technologies haven't gained significant ground on many websites, its possible that as times get leaner andcompanies put more pressure on their websites to increase conversion and customer satisfaction, they they become a cost-effective toolset for the digital channel.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Managing customer expectations in a downturn

If you're in the business of serving customers, you can see the story unfolding before you.
  • The economic crunch is here
  • Company revenues decline
  • You get told to reduce service levels
  • You reduce staff and/or cut the hours of cover
  • There's a dilution in the customer experience
  • This causes an erosion in customer loyalty
So tricky days ahead then as we welcome the ever-decreasing cycle of recession-based customer services.

But this need-not be the outcome, as a recent McKinsey article highlights. This report covers the possibility of finding your customer 'Break Points' and carefully tracking this to avoid a complete drop in customer satisfaction.

One alternative to this is managing your customers down to lower cost-to-serve channels such as online, without a drop in quality of service. As I mentioned in a previous post, this can also be difficulty to pull-off correctly, but then this is a recesssion... and you don't just judge the person during the good times do you?

Bad signage

OK, slightly off topic today... but it is funny and Friday!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is MSM?

MSM stands for 'Main Stream Media' (or mainstream media). In other words its: newspapers, TV and (possibly) radio these days.

But hang on, I thought a principle media these days was the Internet in all its flavours? (Google search, content sites , Blogs, Social Networks and everything else). Its in the top 3 of all media consumed and advertising money spent, as well as the main method a lot of us choose to receive our news and information by.

Surely now there's a justified case for saying that the Internet is now a member of the mainstream media?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Low cost to serve doesn't mean low quality

I've previously put together my thoughts on cost to serve vs interaction models, but have been sent various examples recently where companies have obviously decided that low cost to serve means low quality of service. From examples of bad IVR, through to the refusal of some large companies to stick their customer services telephone number on their website.

This does not need to be the case. Just because you are using a lower cost-to-serve channel to service customers, doesn't mean that there has to be a dramatic reduction in the quality.

But delivering a good quality customer service experience does not necessarily mean providing a human voice all the time. Yes there there may still be the expectation among your customers that they will speak to an operative when they phone your billing number; but its how you deal with them when instead they get a voice-recognition system that matters. Also there is often more than one choice of communication channel for the required level of interaction you need at a lower cost-to-serve than a call centre.

Once company that has turned the entire customer service experience on its head is SwiftCover Insurance. The advertising material they've put out over the last few years has made a point of covering the fact that they don't have any Clucking Call Centres:

Clearly aimed at those no-nonsense people who don't like dealing with low quality call centres, they obviously have eliminated a higher cost-to-serve channel straight away. Its not suprising that they've managed to gain a share of a market given some of the incredibly bad practices apparently being used by some call centres such as using fake names and hanging up when things get difficult (This article in The Times is a real eye-openner if you have the time).

Actually, are you aware that there is a British Standard for Customer Service?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Risky Business

The more people interact on the Internet, the more risk they are subjecting themselves to. For example: we're told that the more information you post up about youself on social networking sites, the more likely you are to be the subject of a phishing/social engineering/etc. attack

But what about when you're a company employee, and you decide to interact on behalf of your company? How does the company minimise the risks of saying something incorrect in a situation where you are trying to encourage human interaction and generate a real community?

My recommendation is to make sure that you have a clear set of social media moderation guidelines. If staff don't know the rules, how can they follow them?

However, what if your employee is trying to cultivate their own personal brand? What if they are trying to own the conversation? (Well Jeremiah has a very similar blog post today, with some suggestions on how companies may try to manage this issue.)

One thing is for sure, personal brands are here to stay and some companies actively encourage the employment of them. Rather like an actor for a film, they are hiring an individual to play the lead role. But well known actors expect to make their own changes to the script and of course they have their nuances and traits that make them popular and therefore social. This is very different to giving an unknown some specific lines to say verbatim and its something that film studios have lived with for years...

I'm just not sure that the digital communication space is any different.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How to confuse your customers

Being 2 metres tall (6 Foot 6 inches in old terminology) Alto, the online clothing store for tall gentlemen is a site I regularly visit. I've even signed-up for their email bulletins for bargains and the like.

I was therefore suprised today to receive an email from them with the subject line
'New Tall Mens Clothing website launching in 2009'.

I did therefore have some obvious questions:
  1. Why send me an email on the busiest online shopping day of the year, telling me that your new site is coming next year?
  2. Why start your email copy....
    'New clothing website coming in 2009.
    The all-new Alto Clothing website is coming in 2009. We have been busy working through all your customer survey returns and suggestions that will help us bring you the clothing you want.' ?
It is only when you read past all this repetition and select to view email images that you see the line: 'In the meantime we are still open for business!' ...

I am sure that most of the people who would have even bothered to have openned up the email would have stopped reading by now.

I will not dwell on the the email itself, which was an appalling mixture of colours, fonts, random bold text and strange layout. Instead I would just advise Alto, that to send such a confusingly worded email in a heavily competitive industry and during such economic times, is perhaps not the best way to generate click-through and sales?

Friday, December 5, 2008

its not digital's recession

An old friend (I've known him for about 8 years, he's not old in years!) asked me the other day what I thought the business climate in the eCommerce and on-line marketing space, especially in the UK, would be like from about mid 2009, once the worst of the economic difficulties were passed.

Here was my perspective:

1. The market for online (eCommerce, Marketing and general digital stuff) is still going to see growth in the next 3 or so years. There are various predictions by intelligent and well-regarded people about what this growth will actually be, and most of these have however been lessened in the recent economic climate. However none are fore-telling a short-medium decline in the online space!
Despite Ad Age's recent article announcing a 'crater in online sales', which eventually admits:
holiday e-commerce sales will ultimately match the $29.2 billion spent during November and December of last year
2. There is still the view that buying online is: easier, cheaper and providing a greater selection - without the: hassles, petrol usage, parking fees/fines and other burdens that accompany a shopping trip

3. Online Marketing is an accountable science, that shows (almost) instantly what works and sells.... and what doesn't! Showing a Return On Investment is key right now and I don't think this will go away, even when the market picks up in a year or two.

4. London is the home of the UK (and possibly the European) digital comunity. There are lots of networking events still and great people to meet & work with. Although Silicon Valley and SF is the home of the new economy, London is its hard-working cousin over the Atlantic

5. Its still a fun industry to be in now. There is still work in digital (albeit less highly-paid consulting roles) but the full-time market for online people is still OK.

So, for now, it doesn't look like its online's recession.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Press 2.0 - 1 year later

Well, its been a year now since I wrote my first posting for this blog and what a year its been!
(Not forgetting that personally, I've: got married, moved house and now we have a child on the way)

There have been almost 25o postings to the blog. These have covered various topics based around company & customer communication methods, whilst still trying to keep up with my per subject of the demise of mainstream media.

So, what have I learned along the way? Well, here's a few thoughts:

1. Blogging (almost) daily is hard work.
Maintaining a reasonably professional blog requires a certain discipline to keep abreast of technological, social & communication practices. It then takes more effort to actually type stuff up into (semi) coherent thoughts and perspectives. This is especially true when you have a full-time consultancy job and a company to run. Several times now I've found myself tapping away in the office gone-midnight in an effort to piece together an article to automatically schedule a publish in the morning. However, that said.... its been a good experience and I'm still enjoying it.

2. Its slightly easier to post about different (but related) topics
I have to admit that I've found it easier to produce postings about multiple subjects on a regular basic. For example: by discussing ecommerce market growth projections on one day and video newspaper initatives on the next, it allows me to investigate different issues that are still inter-linked by my passion for all things digital. Also, I'm sure I've strayed completely off-topic sometimes, but hopefully my readers have enjoyed the occasional tangents taken.

3. Getting comments is a very satisfying experience:
Its nice to know sometimes that not only am I getting visitors (I do track usage via some Google Analytics code inserted into every page), but that they are actually reading what I write. I'm particularly grateful to: Tristan, Ellify & Boudewijn for their feedback - both for their comments via the blog and also separately [thanks chaps].

So... what hasn't worked? Well certain things haven't exactly planned out as I hoped. For one thing, I haven't entirely stayed true to my original aim of treading that line between the 'Press' section & 'About Us' part of the company website and the mainstream media. But then, as my thoughts and understanding have evolved, so has this blog.

Proof perhaps then that life isn't necessarily what you set out to get from it; but it turns out being what you put into it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cost to serve modelling

Many of our company's clients (plus anyone who has cornered me on the subject) knows that I can talk for ages on the subject of Cost-to-serve models. But for those who haven't (and apparently you should count yourselves lucky), here's my main theory:

The average cost to serve a customer (e.g. to make a sale or to answer a complaint) depends upon the channel they use to contact you and then how you deal with that contact. Basically, some channels (e.g. face-to-face) cost lots and others cost less. Companies wishing to minimise their costs, should therefore try to 'manage' customers to the lowest relevant cost channel required to provide the level of interaction needed to service the cuctomer.

For example, in the diagram below 'B' shows that a high level of customer interaction (e.g. face-to-face contact to sell a new car) has a higher cost to serve than the lower 'A' which needs lesser levels of interaction (e.g. a web page). Basically, the more complex or 'human' you need the service to be, the more it costs to achieve.

The difficulty comes when a company badly manages their customers down to lower cost to serve channels, especially when the customer will always try to use the one with the highest possible level of Interaction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Your anti-social graph

The whole concept of the corporate social graph gained traction as a concept after I started reading about the personal social graph and applying it to corporate influencers. However, the corporate social graph, doesn't just show those people who have something positive to say (or write) about your company, it shows those who are negative about them as well.

The question for today (and possibly picked-up again in subsequent postings) is:

In plotting this negative sentiment, are you therefore creating your
anti-social graph of corporate influence?

Monday, December 1, 2008

More multi channel madness - lost?

Last week I was asked how you create a multichannel strategy (mainly from an eCommerce perspective) and of course I tried to put a decent and structured answer together. I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing customers (or in this case, my client's custoemrs) becoming more complex in their channel usage and buying patterns. If this is the case with your company, then you have to at some point embrace the Multi-channel madness.

But for those who have never done this before, beware... its a minefield!
And for those who have... well, my sympathies.

As the old joke goes:

When a lost person went up to someone and asked them for directions, the response was... "don't start from here".

Creating your channel approach is a little like being lost. Not only is it a case of where you want to go, but also it is:
  • How did you manage to get to where you are right now? (history)
  • What do you currently know ? (data)
  • How do you want to get there? (tools & technology)
  • What's the journey ahead like? (impediments)

If you're planning your multi-channel strategy for 2009, consider starting from an informed and understood place. Oh, and obviously be careful who you ask for directions along the way!